Harry Connick Jr. back in the swim with ‘Dolphin Tale 2’

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Harry Connick Jr. and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who portrays his daughter Hazel, in a scene from “Dolphin Tale 2”.

CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. — Not too far from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where Harry Connick Jr. shot both the original “Dolphin Tale,” and now its sequel, “Dolphin Tale 2” (opening Friday), the actor and singer sat down recently to chat about returning to make another film about the amazing dolphin Winter — now joined by a new companion, Hope.

Q: Often I hear from moviegoers that they can’t find enough so-called good family fare in theaters today. Is it safe to say, this film meets that criteria?

A: I think so too. I don’t why, maybe it’s because a lot of so-called family films are simply made just to fill that genre — often the case with the animated films. A lot are great, but many are just filling that void. With this film, we tried to make a good movie first, for everyone. It just happens to be something entire families — and different generations — can go to see together. It was a great story first, and Charles Martin Smith [the director and screenwriter] wrote a terrific screenplay.

Q: It’s very unusual for an entire cast and crew to reunite for a sequel like this. How was that?

A: It was great. If you think about it, we were working at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is a magical place anyway. It’s a beautiful place, the people are great, we love our director, and when I read the script, I had no doubt everybody was going to jump back on board. To relive all that, with what I think is even a better story from the first film, was really a dream come true.

Q: What was the biggest difference from being in the first film?

A: I didn’t have to do the sort of preparation for the second one, because I was so familiar with the aquarium, its mission, Winter’s story and all the rest. I knew my character. I knew the cast so well. I had become so close with Nathan [Gamble] and Cozi [Zuehlsdorff,who play Sawyer Nelson and Hazel Haskett, Connick’s daughter in the films]. They have become very good friends of mine, as well as the other cast members as well. So the learning curve didn’t even exist for this.

Q: Since you have spent so much time with dolphins, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about them?

A: I think that they’re on a completely different plane than we are. Certain parts of our consciousness overlap, but when you look at them you get the sense they think of things that we can’t even understand. Fortunately, there are parts that overlap, so we can have some kind of relationship with them. I think they’re thinking of things we can’t even conceive of.

Q: Has making these filmsmade you more aware of the environmental issues addressed in both “Dolphin Tale” movies, especially taking care of the oceans?

A: Absolutely. I don’t know where people are completely aware of what the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is. It’s a facility whose main goal is to rescue these animals and then get them ready to go back out their in the wild. However, sometimes these animals cannot survive on their own. Winter, of course, could not have the ability to survive on her own. Neither would Hope. It’s an amazing thing, and it’s thanks to things like CMA that makes people aware of how delicate our planet is and how much we have to keep plugging away at protecting it.

Q: You’rereturning for another season as a judge on “American Idol.” What are you most excited about, coming back for your second season?

A: I’m very excited. We’ve been there, this panel of judges with Jenny [Jennifer Lopez] and Keith [Urban]. We’ve seen it, and at this point I think we’re really raising the bar. The talent was extraordinary last year, but one thing we learned — when the kids show up on that audition day, it’s rare there’s going to be monumental growth. It’s not about showing us potential. It’s about showing us what they actually have got in that room right now. We’re seeing some really good ones already.

We’ve done [auditions in] two cities. We’ve got four more to go — and then let the games begin!

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